Full Circle in Mexico: Photo Collage Mega Overload

It’s been a GREAT year, this 2014.  And we anticipate that 2015 is going to be even better.  More adventures we haven’t even dreamed of, because after all, a lot of 2014 played out completely different than we had imagined at the beginning of the year.  Bigger and Better it turned out to be so that’s what I’m expecting for 2015.

With only hours left before we flip the calendar to the New Year here’s an overview of highlights from our past year.

JANUARY: The year started at Barra de Navidad where a few days later my mom and sister Joanne came to visit.  Though us Johnsons were all sick, we fit in crocodiles and cafe and markets.  After they left we camped on the beaches in Michoacan. Beautiful….

Collage January

and before the month was out we were ‘living’ at Ajijic, Jalisco but left shortly for the mountainous interior of Michoacan state where our eldest Layne came to visit us and we celebrated Maret’s 14th Birthday.Collage Layner

We  ventured up into the mountains to marvel at the Monarch butterflies, and visited wonderful Mexican artistic communities famous for copper, furniture making, etc.  We loved this area of Mexico.

FEBRUARY: This is the highest concentration of family celebrations with 3 of our birthdays and Everette’s and my wedding anniversary.  We had a Tigger celebration for Gaelyn’s birthday, and went to the zoo in Guadalajara for Anders’.  That sweet little family, the Sampson’s….their little girl’s birthday is also in February, and we’re hoping they’ll join us this February so we can all celebrate together when their precious K will be turning magical 2!

Collage Feb

MARCH: Toveli turned Twelve.  The kids spent loads of time all spring volunteering with the dog rescue, and for near two weeks they attempted to rescue this mourning dove but sadly it died.  But what a huge learning experience that was.

A highlight of the month was helping prep and celebrate their friend E’s 13th ‘Doctor Who’ birthday.Collage March

Collage April

APRIL: We had to temporarily ‘move’ into a couple of apartments in April which helped us prep for our drive north to Canada.  (We thought we were going to be moving to Puerto Rico, but that never transpired.)

MAY: End of April we received a Petition from our children, insisting that we hurry north to surprise their sister Rauchelle for her birthday.  So, we headed to Portland, OR.  Inspite of van troubles & sandstorms we covered coastal northern Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California (& here) lickety split and arrived in Oregon in plenty of time.

Collage Heading NorthCollage Rauchelle May

When we got back to British Columbia, a friend we knew from previous years thru homeschooling, invited us to share her house with her and her 3 kids.  Just that gesture helped shape our entire summer, which has become one of our children’s FAVOURED SUMMERS OF ALL TIME!!  Thanks, Shelley!Collage Yaremcio's

Shelley introduced us to the Hamilton’s (Chris and Shelly).  We had showed up to volunteer at their Hobby Farm, but what I discovered later was that Shelly H was initially overwhelmed with our crew and worried that we would be ‘too much’ for her to use.  But, we filled in a need (she desperately wanted help with preschool groups during the week while regular school-aged volunteers were still in school) and that turned in to the kids volunteering full time for the summer, and the family moved onto the farm.Collage Hamilton Farm

JUNE: We enjoyed the summer being at the beaches in Parksville and Qualicum Beach, or stomping grounds for near 20 years of married bliss.  Fun to see our kids enjoy their time here, too.  We left here when Laars was just 2.5 months old.  This summer he turned 7 as we celebrated with our Ortwein friends on the beach at Qualicum.Collage JUNE

JULY: Danaka and Everette spent 2 weeks in Puerto Rico, a few days of which was taking a certification course on Aquaponics, in anticipation of our family settling on the island in the Caribbean sun (wasn’t to be).  While they sweltered in the heat there, we enjoyed a Canada Day and summer days at the Hamilton Hobby Farm.Collage July
Collage July MWAUGUST: Throughout the summer we visited with family and friends.  We shaved heads as we dealt with lice for the very first time, and took excursions to Cathedral Grove, Englishmen River Falls, Lake Cowichan, Duncan, Bramberton, Sooke and (local) Coombs.

Collage SUmmer

And we made a special trip back down to Portland to share in our Precious Marin’s Second Birthday.Collage Aug Marin

SEPTEMBER: In anticipation of the Farm closing for the winter the kids put in more hours of riding.  Danaka enjoyed ground work but got herself up in the saddle a few times….just can’t find any photos to prove it!  Shelly Hamilton, you got any???

Collage Riding

There was a Year End Party for the farm, the kids helped with final chores before we headed south for another winter.  It was sad Goodbye’s to give, having spent four and a half months getting to know and then loving these people that let us become part of their family.  Kudos to the Hamilton’s.Collage Hamiltons

OCTOBER: We’ve only got one son-in-law at present so he’s high on our priority list so we drove internationally (!!) to be there for his 4oth Birthday.  Well, ok, so they were on our route south….but we would certainly go out of the way for those Burkes anyways.  They are some of our very favourite people, even if we don’t see eye to eye on things.  We still enjoy spending time with them, and celebrating some of the big days of the year with them.  Any day would be nice to spend with them….we’ll take all the days we can get.Collage Seth

And just before we were going to celebrate Halloween and Where the Wild Things Are our second granddaughter showed up.

Elita BurkeNOVEMBER: I had stayed behind in Portland to witness the birth of Elita and provide support for Rauchelle, along with Maret and Mitchell while Everette and the other kids headed to warmer (except at night) climes in anticipation of heading to Mexico.  Finally we were reunited in early November and we made a quick trip south.  We were blessed to be invited to camp at Squire and Cami’s yard in Alamos, a town in the hills of Sonora state where we had never gone before.  It was a delightful weekend with new drinks (Cami started me on gin and tonic) and new friendships and a wonderful time of music.  We arrived at our Mexican destination near the town of Ajijic by the 18th….in time to celebrate Thanksgiving.Collage Nov

DECEMBER: This is month of festivities all around the world, and certainly here in Mexico.  The children helped Tina decorate for every event there is here at Hotel Perico, and they enjoy attending each festive event, too.  The boys are becoming real dancers (the style is hard to decipher).  We could all do with more practise.

Danaka turned 18 on Boxing Day.

Collage DecemberAnd today….what have we done today?  Nice enough for a swim in the outdoor pool, and I worked on this here post reminiscing over pictures.

DSCF0017 The kids are watching a movie, eating chips trying to stay awake in anticipation of champagne at midnight when Everette will blow the shofar and we’ll probably be hearing Mexican music to blaring and the fireworks going off.  All to wish each other…..New Years

Of Sand and Sea

The Parksville/Qualicum Beach area of Vancouver Island has some wonderful beaches.  Not the white hot sandy beaches of the world, but pleasant enough for the short summers we get here.  Enough to bask in the evening sun while wiggling our toes in the gravel-sand away from non-biting sand fleas or lice.  Laughter escapes masks.  Boys swim far out where its still relatively shallow and there’s no threat of sharks. They tumble each other off of logs. Its small surf.

Rathtrevor Beach

Rathtrevor Beach (coastal/mainland mountains in the background)

When the tide goes out at Rathtrevor you walk for miles to reach water!!  When its coming in there's warm water for little people to frolic in.

When the tide goes out at Rathtrevor you walk for miles to reach water!! When its coming in there’s warm water for little people to frolic in.  Island mountains in the background.

Rathtrevor Beach, not a swimmer's paradise.

Rathtrevor Beach, not a swimmer’s paradise.  We beach comb.

Fresh air for the lungs, feet grounded to the earth, wind through the hair, salt for the flesh.  Healthy kids healthy time.  No worries.

Parksville Beach

Parksville Beach

Teens thinking if it's worth getting in the cold waters.  It's not cold cold, but compared to the Pacific coast of Mexico its c.o.l.d

Teens thinking if it’s worth getting in the cold waters. It’s not cold cold, but compared to the Pacific coast of Mexico its c.o.l.d

The Promenade at Parksville Beach

The Promenade at Parksville Beach

Sandcastle competition each year.

Sandcastle competition each year.  Building masterpieces patiently grain by grain.


Difficulty Camping, a Sick Birthday for Danaka & Some Instant Friends

We’ve picked up a bacterium somewhere and many members of the family are under the weather now.  We packed up the water toys last night so we thought it would be a good day to drive.

It’s Danaka’s 17th Birthday and she’s not feeling up to snuff.  She staked out her solitude in the back seat alongside mountains of bedding.  We don’t see nor hear from the birthday girl until evening.

We purchased a recommended map book while in Puerto Vallarta, more detailed than our weather-proof foldout map but we’ve discovered that some of the roads it says are there…aren’t.  People look quizzical at us when we ask them about the road along the coast.  There isn’t one in these parts so we have to backtrack.  We find ourselves traversing huge puddles & low creek beds, dodging overhanging branches and bouncing along miles and miles of cobblestone roads with nothing but brush alongside of them.

The roadway

The roadway

Afternoon treats are roadside coconut meat sprinkled with chili-lime powder, a little salt, and squeezed lemon.  Two chilled coconut aquas.  Our healthy snack costs $2.50.  Gotta love it!

We checked out beaches near Punta Perula with poor access for the van & boats.  It’s all private (ie security guards) around Playa Negrito.  Tenacatita seemed like it would work but No, some millionaire supposedly bought up 42 hectares and thinks its fine to secure 140 hectares for himself with intimidation and security swarming the roads.  Anders had to pee so we pulled to the side of the road about ¼ mile away from the beach and security guards.  Before he was done his job an armed man is running down the road towards us yelling “Hey!  Stop!”  Everette gets out of the van and approaches the guy while I usher Anders back into his seat.  He tells us we can’t stop anywhere along here, we have no rights its private land, blah blah blah.  We claim Anders was sick (since peeing might be illegal) and that we’ll be right on our way.  He shoos us on.

We stop and meet Tony at a distillery to ask for suggestions for camping since the sun has set again and we haven’t had any success finding suitable camping for the past 3 hours.  He gives us a quick tasty sample and sends us on our way.

The other side of Bahia Tenacatita is La Manzanilla which is where we head.  We are now willing to pay for RV park if need be, but $800M is steep for us @ Boca Beach.  They claim 10+ yrs is an adult, and that will only cover the cost of water usage.  Bah, humbug I say!  We drive into La Manzanilla proper and ask around for tenting places, then ask amongst the strip of tenting places until we finally find a place that will allow us to camp.  Only $440 for the night.  Still steep, little for amenities but its late and dark so we put up camp and eat a simple supper.  We hit the sack.  Not much of a birthday for Danaka.

The 27th, we awake hours before sunrise to rain.  Not a short hard shower but a heavy Pacific Northwest kind of rain that goes on and on and on.  We postpone our morning pack-up-and-leave, meet other BC campers (seems like half of Vancouver Island is in Mexico for Christmas) and drive to town for Everette to find a coffee.

We discover we’re in for a few more days of this rain so although we don’t like the idea of it we decide to pack up our wet camp immediately and hope for a cheaper place to hunker down.  Foolish to leave at 2pm but call us crazy!

Before we pulled out of town we passed by the cocodrilio where we spotted a crocodile up near the chainlink fence.

croc head

Just 15 kms down the highway is San Patricio & Melaque where we find an almost-free camping spot.  $60M per night, $1,500M for a month.  That’s about $5US/night $125US/month.  Suits us fine to wait out the rain here.

We headed into town to look for more tarps to keep us dry and stayed for supper to celebrate a belated Birthday for Danaka while there was a break in the clouds.  We were all feeling better and up to an evening of scouting out town, a bit of shopping and eating a feast.

We always look for the busy street side restaurants, particularly where Mexicans are eating.  Just before 5pm the plastic tables and chairs start crowding out the vehicles on the streets, claiming their territory as a literal street side restaurant.  We’re not talking sidewalk cafes; we’re talking out on the side of the street!! 

Dinner out on the street!

Dinner out on the street!




We finished the birthday meal off with a stop at a cart full of pastries, cakes and donuts.  Everybody got to choose their own delicacy.  Supper and dessert, for the 9 of us, came to a grand total of $27.

Some of my family has been thinking of coming to visit us so we’ve had to pick a place to stick around so they could book a flight and visit while we were close enough to an international airport…we picked Manzanillo.  It’s a challenge, to pick and place and make ourselves move!  With so much rain we’re tempted to pack up and spend several days driving south to sunshine.

Almost-free camping at San Patricio-Melaque

Almost-free camping at San Patricio-Melaque

Amidst many days of rain we drove into Manzanillo on Sunday to check it out and stay dry.

First we strolled the crowded narrow cobblestone streets of Barre de Navidad and had lunch.  We walked out the malecon and looked back onto the other side of the bay where we’re camped.

Entrance to Barre de Navidad

Entrance to Barre de Navidad

At the far end of the beach is an island with a hotel you reach by boat.

At the far end of the beach is an island with a hotel you reach by boat.

From Somewhere Near You?

From Somewhere Near You?

We drove into Manzanillo which was described to us as a ‘dirty port city’ and the recent days of rain doesn’t sell any city well.  Not knowing where we were going we ended up traveling down an empty canal until the pedestrian overpasses didn’t look like they provided enough clearance, then we ended up in a tight and steep neighborhood with power lines drooping close to our height, and vehicles parked as if to keep us out.  I started to get a bit nervous, but soon we found a main artery and sailed away.

Part of the travel adventure is Getting Lost!  We can do that pretty well.

As soon as we entered the mall to pick up a few needs an excited lady came up to us with our SmoothieTribe website scribbled on a piece of paper.  In decent English she asked if she could checkout our site, and Brenda became one of those instant-friends….where your hearts touch and you know it was destiny that brought you together.

Brenda was in the store to choose some orphans names from under a Christmas tree that she was going to buy gifts for.  In many countries, Mexico included, January 6th is the traditional gift-giving day in remembrance of the Magi presenting gifts to baby Jesus.  Brenda, single mom to 3, was there to give to those less fortunate than herself.

Heading out of town we pulled over at a roadside stand to buy some produce and again met wonderful people.  What treasures these Mexican people are!!

Gloria and Francisco surrounded by the Johnsons

Gloria and Francisco surrounded by the Johnsons

Gloria had breast cancer years ago but she cleaned up her diet, drank noni juice morning and night, ate lots of fresh produce and is now cancer free.  Gloria and her husband Francisco taught us so much about local fruits previously unknown to us, and we had such a delightful time in beneficial language lessons with Francisco we plan to go back and see them when we have to make trips to the airport.  We left with tummies full of fruit, bags brimming with more, so excited that we had stopped in.  Our hearts are full.

Yaka fruit.  It's sticky & messy, but I let Francisco deal with it.  The fruit is pockets of orange flesh with a stone pit, all surrounded by fibrous creamy white strips.  Francisco uses the white stuff to ferment--he says its a great detox.  It tastes absolutely horrible.

Yaka fruit. It’s sticky & messy, but I let Francisco deal with it. The fruit is pockets of orange flesh with a stone pit, all surrounded by fibrous creamy white strips. Francisco uses the white stuff to ferment–he says its a great detox. It tastes absolutely horrible.

The orange flesh within the flesh  is sliced open and the pit/stone pops out.  The fruit, they say, tastes like 7 different fruits.  It truly is a mixture of flavours, like peach, kiwi, pineapple and other.  I LOVE IT!

The orange flesh within the flesh is sliced open and the pit/stone pops out. The fruit, they say, tastes like 7 different fruits. It truly is a mixture of flavours, like peach, kiwi, pineapple and other. I LOVE IT!

Corrales Draws Us In for Christmas

Matt the Frenchman met up with us at our RV Park in Puerto Vallarta along with his new friend Pamela from Wisconsin.  They were recommended a beach about 100km away and after spending one more night at Tachos we got a late morning start heading south for a village, road and beach that didn’t exist on any of our maps nor our 2 different GPS.

But we were told it exists.

The rolling hills allowed occasional glimpses of the Pacific as we traveled Mexico Hwy 200 to the town of El Tuito where we searched narrow cobbled streets for ice and I succumbed to 2 roasted chickens with corn tortillas and hot salsa for $10.  Fast food at its best, lunch at a bus stop on main street.  I don’t know if its considered rude to eat out on the sidewalk like that but Mexicans still said “Hola” and “Buenos Tardes” so it couldn’t be that bad!

Donkey carrying firewood

Donkey carrying firewood

We got directions to head out of town, asking for Corrales in our poor Espanol and using the maps that don’t have it on.  We headed down a narrow road grown in by shrubs to discover it opens up and there are highway signs!  Okay, part of them are missing but the important stuff for us was there.  Corrales!!  That’s where we were trying to get.  It must exist.

A 100 km day seemed like it was going to be a breeze.  I imagined getting to some gorgeous beach in time to bask and swim in the afternoon sun.

Approach into Corrales

Approach into Corrales

Matt and Pamela would have fewer problems than us due simply to height.  They could get the motorcycle in to some very nice secluded beaches.  But Reggie (our van) isn’t as flexible.  So after traveling back and forth the last 20 kms of very rugged roads looking for beach access we asked the people at the end of the road (literally) if we could camp on the beach with their pangas (fishing boats) as we were unable to get under all the growth on the other beaches.

The Bay

The Bay

They were more than gracious.  Maximiliano let us park in front of their store/house, and told us we could put our tents (tienda de campana) in front of the palapa beside the pangas.  Dark was upon us.

We bought some beers to patronize the store we descended on, and we sat on his patio sharing beers and our unshelled peanuts.  Max joined us for the peanuts and a little lesson in language-sharing.  He told us of a nearby faro (lighthouse) and that he’s a childless only-child.  Juke box blasts.

Amazing what we can communicate without sharing the same language.

Sleep was good if you could ignore the crashing waves, the dogs, the roosters, the braying donkeys, and a snoring husband.  Earplugs quiet them all but that donkey is still incredibly l-o-u-d!!

Under darkness of early morning I sneak out to use the banos which kafuffle us.  The men’s with a urinal has a sheet-curtain door.   The other stall with the only proper toilet has no door.  Your view is right out onto a sandy opening in the road where the pangas are, where 3 storefronts face.  Why the ‘door’ for a urinal but not a toilet??

In the dark nobody can really see you in there.  But in daylight one feels conspicuous.  We already feel conspicuous, as if camping in a town’s living room.

Later in the morning we take turns using the bano while several family members stand in front to build a wall.  Jesus notices our situation then instructs the boys/men to pee in the ocean (it isn’t illegal here in this village…it is in PV where Matt the Frenchman got hauled off to jail guilty for that infraction) and the girls/women can use a different bano with a wooden door.  Gracious!!  There are actually 3 stalls at the new-to-us banos.  Women, men, and just a urinal.

We are all relieved, and much more comfortable staying here for a few days now that the banos situation has improved with privacy.  At some point a curtain goes up on the other bano.  We now have options.  None are flushing.  A barrel full of water rests near by with a bucket.  About 3 bucketfuls will get solids down.  Fingers crossed. boy wash fish

Every fishing village has their own system for getting their boats in and out to sea.  Maret & I are fascinated comparing this village with others that we have known.

The pangas are anchored in the bay here at Corrales.  A few are up on the beach.  Under dark the first crews got in a panga on the beach and shoved it out.  They stopped at other pangas dropping men off in different boats before they all head out for the catch.

Others come down to the beach and jump on kayaks, paddling out using their hands or flip-flop to paddle.  It’s a short trip to their panga, then they come into beach and pick up others, delivering them to other pangas.  The kayaks are anchored for their return.  They might be sunk by the time they return due to cracks or holes, but they are tied to another boat or to shore so they can be retrieved.

A fisherman accompanied by his wife and 3 daughters jumped on board their small-motorized boat.  Middle daughter started up the motor after dad paddled them away from shore.  Everybody but mom climbed onto a panga and set off fishing.  Where mom went I don’t know.

Somebody caught a barracuda.  Very big with needle-like teeth.

Somebody caught a barracuda. Very big with needle-like teeth.

Within about an hour and a half the return began with their catch of the day.  Small hammerhead shark, African pompano, Durango, many of the fish we became acquainted with last winter on the Baja.  They sell them to restaurants in the Puerto Vallarta area.clean fish audience

Work done for the day the beer, smokes and joints come out.  I don’t know that they even eat breakfast.  They just start hanging out under the palapa near the store.

Laars awoke with an enlarged gland, Anders with a headache and fever, and Gaelyn with a sore throat.  Kids climb rocks around the point to see what’s there…more rocks, shore and ocean.

Mitchell and Maret paddle out on the surfboards to get a different view.  Later Mitchell takes the kayak out to the other side of the bay and gets uncomfortably close to a breaching whale.  It wasn’t his choice but the behemoths to cross paths there!  We saw some breaches from the beach, wondering where Mitchell might be.  Did he see it, too?  Oh, yeah, Momma!

M& M take Girlfriend out for a sail

M& M take Girlfriend out for a sail

The other kids doodle, more creations on paper, play card games. Laars sits in the shade and builds things with sand, Popsicle sticks, leaves and shells.  Whatever he finds he builds with.  Everette helps a guy fix his roof.  The men repair and/or repair their boats.  Everette and Mitch work on the dory and mend a man’s leaky kayak.

The weather is questionable on Christmas Eve (it rained during the night) but Mitchell catches a ride out with the men to collect their nets and catch over night, so we decide to stay thru the next few days.  We are low on food but we’ll hang around and observe how they celebrate Feliz Navidad.

Mitchell is given a reward for his participation in retrieving the fish and we pay Amelia to prepare us a meal.  It becomes our Christmas Eve dinner shared with Matt the Frenchman and Pam.  Red snapper, freshly ground maize (corn) tortillas, refried beans, hot salsa, lemons with salt.  We feast, and end the meal with peanut butter and Nutella in tortillas for dessert and a game of Dutch Blitz.

Amelia's kitchen fire

Amelia’s kitchen fire

Fresh tortillas

Fresh tortillas



Our Christmas Eve dinner table

Our Christmas Eve dinner table

Fried Red Snappers

Fried Red Snappers

Anders' meal, putting pieces of fish into his tortilla along with fried beans and salsa.  Roll up yumminess.

Anders’ meal, putting pieces of fish into his tortilla along with fried beans and salsa. Roll up yumminess.

Across the street Oscar shares some cerviche (raw fish dish) on Tostadas while his brother buys  a round of beer. The juke box goes on.  Happiness seems easy.  It’s Christmas Eve.

The ‘party’ disassembles when they carry a man to a waiting truck.  He’s passed out and falls out the front door.  Propped back up they close the door, several men hop in the back of the truck and they head for home.  It quiets down.

We spend much of the afternoon playing in the water with surfboards and body boards.  Jesus arranges for us to take a panga ride out to the faro (lighthouse) and see neighboring beaches.  Beautiful, but the camera battery dies.

Anders and Toveli

Anders and Toveli


Jesus from Mazatlan

Jesus from Mazatlan


Panga ride out to Lighthouse

Panga ride out to Lighthouse

Back in the village a party gets under way at one of the casas on the beach: girls all dolled up in party dresses; lots of children.; food and fun.  A few Christmas lights glitter but there’s little for decorations, and no big celebration.  There is no church here, no mass.

Music is played in multiple jukeboxes throughout the village, each blaring to out perform the others.

I’m sure Santa couldn’t miss finding this village that’s off the map.

Children are out on the street at 2 am bursting homemade piñatas.  We toss and turn and read the Eve away.  Earplugs don’t help.

The music doesn’t stop until 7 the next morning!!  Then starts up again when the fishermen return with the days’ catch.  Beer, smokes, the day repeats itself.

Matt and Pam pull out of town.  They’ve had their fill of the music.

Matt & Pamela

Matt & Pamela

We have, too, but we’ve got the dory and other water toys down so we stay and play.  Amazed that here we are on Christmas Day, swimming in the Pacific, playing the afternoon away.  We are delighted, hopeful for a quieter night.

Afterthoughts:  Christmas has come and gone another year.  We trust that you embraced those you love with an extra special tenderness this year.  Time flies by and it’s our relationships that matter far more than the dinners and gifts and Christmas trappings.  As the New Year approaches I hope you’ll take time to enjoy those around you.  No matter what you do, reach out and love on those who are within your circle.  And to those not in your circle….at least give a special smile to those you encounter….for some of them that’s the best part of their day.  A smile is a Gift.

GPS Waypoint Boondocking Free camping

N 20.41039   W  105.67173  Elevation 20’